This year’s CAA season was a rollercoaster from the start, but in the end the preseason favorite will be dancing. Northeastern earned its first NCAA tournament appearance since 1991 with a 72-61 win over William & Mary, thanks to the Huskies’ hottest shooting performance of the season.
Northeastern struggled to an 11-21 record last year in large part became it lacked outside shooting, but there were signs this season would be different right from the start. David Walker and T.J. Williams improved their accuracy, while newcomers gave the Huskies new options. Rookie Devon Begley shot 48% from long range off the bench, including big shots in Sunday’s win over UNC Wilmington. Caleb Donnelly, a walk-on who was playing club ball two years ago, hit 54% and scored in double figures in the semifinals and finals.
But the Huskies’ biggest addition was a familiar face — forward Quincy Ford, who missed most of the 2013-14 season after having back surgery. Ford shot treys in high volume at a 36% clip this season, pairing that with an ability to drive from the perimeter and use his 6’8” length inside. Behind Ford’s 22 points (including four threes), Northeastern led wire to wire in the championship game, making 12 of 20 three-pointers for an effective field goal percentage of 73%.
William & Mary was on the wrong end of a Northeastern explosion before — a 75-64 loss in February, in which the Huskies scored 1.44 points per possession. As in that game, the Tribe made the score close with a late rally — a 16-0 run to pull within six points I the final minute — but their hole was too deep.
The Tribe, famously, has never made an NCAA tournament, a streak that will extend at least one more year. Fate seemed to be in their favor after a last-second, double-overtime victory over Hofstra in the semifinals, but luck ran out against the Huskies’ shooting. 2,000-point scorer Marcus Thornton, who had 20 points and five assists Monday, will finish his illustrious career in the NIT.
Northeastern, meanwhile, will taste the Big Dance for the first time in a generation. With an experienced lineup, a balanced offense and a tendency to get hot, the Huskies could be a sneaky upset pick in March.